by Sandra Arnold
IT WAS HARD to see on this road in the clinging dusk. She could barely make out the silhouettes of the old pit heaps towering above the rooftops in the distance. They had once been familiar landmarks in the district before the coal mines were closed and the heaps demolished and recycled into road construction. Though not before one uncle had died of silicosis and another when the mine shafts collapsed. She used to have a ritual when she was young, peering out the window from the upper deck of the bus on her way home from school. As soon as the bus reached the top of the hill and the pit heaps became visible, she closed her eyes and made a wish that she could grow wings and fly over their peaks, over the landlocked town with its soot-blackened buildings, over the forests and oceans to the far side of the world.
She had walked a long way on this road, but the town never seemed to get any closer. Then she realised that no matter how far she walked the road kept moving away from her. So in effect she was walking backwards. Someone had once told her she should aim for the stars. She had always doubted her ability to do this, but in the present situation she clearly had no other choice.
Despite her fear of falling she surprised herself by levitating high enough to see the landscape below set out like a map. Street lamps threw ribbons of pale light along the road that led to her childhood home. And there it was, its thick walls absorbing her father’s rage and her mother’s silence. Floating higher she saw tired-looking women with shovels waiting by their gates for the coal truck to dump their week’s supply; chimneys belching smoke into the fetid air; miners standing at the bus stop with only the whites of their eyes visible in coal-blackened faces.
She drifted across the woods where she used to hide in the trees pretending to be a bird, her first attempts to fly resulting in a broken leg. Past her old school with its memories of beatings by brutish teachers and schoolyard bullies. Over the library where, taking refuge inside books, she had found peace and grown wings.
Metal wings had transported her from this town a long time ago and she hadn’t yet worked out what kind of wings had brought her back here. Or why. She tried to drop lower over the town to clarify her perspective on the past so she could interpret the present and find her way to the future. But when she tried to fly lower the effect was the same as when she’d attempted to reach the town by road. It seemed now that her only achievable goal was to keep flying higher until what she could see below no longer mattered.
Sandra Arnold is an award-winning writer who lives in New Zealand. She is the author of five books including The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell (Mākaro Press, NZ), Soul Etchings (Retreat West Books, UK) and Sing no Sad Songs (Canterbury University Press, NZ). Her short fiction has been widely published and anthologised internationally. She has received nominations for The Best Small Fictions, Best Microfictions and The Pushcart Prize. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Central Queensland University, Australia. Learn more at www.sandraarnold.co.nz.